The rivalry lives.
Rewind back to last week, through two games of New Jersey’s first-round tilt with the New York Rangers, and the Devils looked cooked. Down 2-0 in the series, outscored 10-2 over that opening pair of games, dusted in their own barn by the bigger, wiser, more savvy Rangers, it looked like Jersey’s return to the post-season would be short-lived.
Then Akira Schmid checked into the series.
After the Rangers reached double-digits against netminder Vitek Vanacek in Games 1 and 2 at the Prudential Center, the Devils turned their net over to the 22-year-old Schmid for Game 3. The result? A 35-save performance that allowed his side to grind out a 2-1 overtime win under the Madison Square Garden lights.
Monday night, with the Rangers looking to right the ship at home in Game 4, looking to stomp out their young rivals’ momentum and take the series back to Newark with a 3-1 lead, Schmid did it again.
With both clubs battling through a tense affair, each managing only 23 shots on the other’s net over the course of the night, it was Schmid who got the better of the Vezina-winning Igor Shesterkin, the younger ‘tender allowing just one puck to beat him as New Jersey claimed a 3-1 win to even the series.
And getting that one puck by him was no small feat, with the Rangers needing a shot from Patrick Kane blocked en route to the net, a shot from Chris Kreider after he found the bouncing puck, and another try from Vincent Trocheck to bury the rebound.
Lindy Ruff’s side came out on top in the end, courtesy of more heroics from another unlikely game-changer: defender Jonas Siegenthaler.
Scratched for a game earlier in this series, pointless through every post-season game he’d played in prior to Monday night, and with just four goals to his name coming into Game 4, the 25-year-old rearguard scored his first playoff goal seven minutes after Trocheck’s tally, sniping what wound up as the game-winner (and adding an assist on the night, too).
And with that, we have a series.
Rangers’ power play earns MSG boos after dominating on the road
On the other side of Jersey’s Swiss heroics are the Rangers, who started this series flying high, before falling apart once the bout moved to their own backyard.
Gerard Gallant’s staff will no doubt be poring through the film in the lead-up to Game 5 on Thursday, trying to figure out how their club went from stacking 10 goals on the Devils through the opening two games to managing just a pair of goals over the last two. If it’s missed opportunities they’re looking for, there’s one key area that’s bound to stand out: the power play.
The Rangers entered the post-season with a top-10 power play league-wide. Through Games 1 and 2, it looked as dominant as expected, the Rangers scoring four times on the man-advantage — two apiece in each game, all four from Chris Kreider.
In Game 3, it sputtered. Sitting tied with the Devils for half the game (after Jersey scored their lone regulation goal on the power play), the Rangers finished the night 0-for-5 on the man-advantage, before losing by a goal.
Monday night, in Game 4, it was much of the same. Struggling to generate offence, trailing the Devils for much of the game, the Rangers came up short on three power-play opportunities before losing another narrow, winnable game.
That type of drop-off would be cause for concern for any club, but perhaps even more so given who’s hopping over the boards for the blue and white in those situations. On the top unit: Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox, Patrick Kane, Mika Zibanejad and Kreider. Not exactly a ragtag group of underdogs. Rather, one with trophy cases stocked well enough that better results should be expected.
The MSG faithful made that clear Monday night, booing the home side as their man-advantage opportunities expired.
Give the Devils’ penalty kill its flowers, too. After finishing with the fourth-best PK in the league during the regular season, and weathering an early storm through the first half of the series, Jersey’s killers have come to play.
Kraken must reverse troubling trend as series becomes best-of-three
Had the NHL’s newest franchise been granted a chance to draw up their dream first-round scenario, a date with the defending Stanley Cup champs likely wouldn’t have been top of the list. The chips were stacked against Seattle coming to this bout against Colorado, even with the key names missing from the Avalanche roster. Still, through four games, the clubs sit even.
The path each has taken to that 2-2 draw has been decidedly different.
For the Kraken, it’s been scoring by committee. Only one player on the club’s roster has more than one goal in this series (Jaden Schwartz, with two) — overall, the team’s 12 goals have come from 11 different scorers. Monday night, it was Will Borgen, Daniel Sprong and Jordan Eberle adding to that pile, each scoring their first of the post-season.
On the other side of the ledger, Mikko Rantanen collected his team-leading fourth and fifth goals of the series in Monday’s Game 4 — putting him level with Kreider and Leon Draisaitl for the league lead — while Nathan MacKinnon’s got a pair to his name, too.
And yet, all four games of the series have been up for grabs, each decided by either a one- or two-goal margin. If there’s an issue that threatens to sink Seattle, though, it’s the way those games have swung on their way to that margin. In every one of this series’ games, the Kraken have managed to score first, to put the Avs on the back foot. But every time, they’ve allowed Colorado to erase those early leads, and score their way out of trouble.
In Game 1, it was an early Kraken lead erased before the first period was through. Seattle managed to add two more goals and claim the win. In Game 2, they aren’t so lucky — Seattle builds a 2-0 lead, but Colorado scores three straight, winning 3-2. In Game 3, it’s the same story — Seattle scores first, Colorado answers with three straight, putting the Kraken in a 3-1 hole. This time, the Kraken manage to claw their way back, tying it up at 3-3 — and Colorado again answers with three straight, eventually winning 6-4.
Monday night, in Game 4, it was yet another repeat. A promising 2-0 Kraken lead erased singlehandedly by Rantanen, leaving the clubs level going into overtime.
Once again, Seattle managed to pull out the win in the extra frame, knotting the series up at two games apiece. That said, with the task ahead a tall one — getting the better of the defending champs twice in three games, with their repeat bid on the line — finding a way to hold onto those leads seems vital.
Could Cale Makar miss Game 5 after controversial hit?
The Kraken faithful were up in arms early in Game 4 following a reckless play involving Colorado’s Cale Makar and Seattle’s Jared McCann that could have a significant impact on the series moving forward.
Approaching the midway mark of the first period, with the Avs on the power play, McCann broke free for a shorthanded breakaway, with Makar chasing him down. The Kraken forward got a shot off, the puck deflecting off of netminder Alexandar Georgiev. As the puck flew over the glass, McCann and Makar drifted away from the net towards the corner — with the whistle having sounded, and play halted, Makar levelled the unsuspecting McCann, appearing to connect with his head, sending the winger to the ice.
McCann remained down on the ice in discomfort for some time as the home crowd rained boos down on Makar. Adding insult to injury, the penalty assessed to Makar for the play, initially a major, was reduced to a minor after a lengthy review.
McCann — who led the Kraken in scoring with a career 40-goal, 70-point campaign — didn’t return to the game.
Makar doesn’t have a reputation as a player who ends up on this side of these situations often, but there’s little that can be said to defend his decision here — the puck isn’t just not in play when he takes McCann down, it’s not even on the sheet.
The question now is whether the league decides to dole out any supplemental discipline for the hit. Already without Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichuskin, with this series level, losing Makar for any amount of games would no doubt be tough for Colorado to navigate.
Either way, on Seattle’s side, with their offence already stretched thin, the loss of McCann moving forward would be a devastating blow to the franchise’s first playoff bid.